State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell), a member of the education committee who is running for state school superintendent, said the division between those who supported Sen. William Ligon’s Senate Bill 167 and those who opposed it was clear.
“It’s very apparent that those who are opposed tended to be very right-leaning groups,” Morgan said. “Those who support Common Core are part of a very broad coalition ranging from education experts, educators, the business community and civic organizations, so we’re talking the superintendents association, the math and English language arts teachers associations, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Atlanta and 100 Black Men and the Atlanta Urban League.”
Of the 68 people who testified, Morgan said “90 percent” supported Common Core state standards.
Morgan said she will be voting down Ligon’s bill and hopes it doesn’t make it out of committee for a floor vote.
“I don’t think there’s any fixing this bill,” Morgan said. “I think it’s misplaced.”
State Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth), who also serves on the House Education Committee, had a different view.
“The 68 people included literally busloads of school district staff — all of whom signed up to speak, all completely missing the point and the effect of SB 167,” Setzler said. “SB 167 ensures Georgia is in control of what its students learn, not out-of-state interest groups.”
Setzler said once the bill is tweaked, he believes it will be something the vast majority of Georgians will be proud to support.
Setzler predicts the committee will pass the bill so that it heads to the House for a floor vote as early as next week.
“The committee is going to make thoughtful amendments based on some of the testimony today, and I predict will vote out a bill that will be very good policy and will make sense to any fair-minded person who understands what the bill will do,” he said.
A billion dollar mistake, John Barge says
Georgia School Superintendent John Barge was first to speak, announcing his opposition to the bill. Barge is running for governor in the Republican primary.
“The bill has quite a bit of language that would throw our educational system into complete chaos, including the new teacher evaluation system that was placed into state law last year by this assembly, our waiver from No Child Left Behind and a number of other issues,” Barge said.
Barge said the state needs a common set of standards.
“We cannot have school systems around this state teaching to different standards,” he said.
Barge also warned that language in the bill would cause Georgia to risk losing over $1 billion in federal IDEA and Title 1 funds.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m not willing to support language in a bill that will risk doing damage to our most needy students in this state, the poor and the disabled,” he said.
John Zauner with the Georgia School Superintendents Association, also opposed Ligon’s bill.
“Having Common Core for two years and then kicking it out is not the thing to do,” Zauner said.
“It’s just bad policy like this bill appears to be running us down that road. As a superintendent, we have boards, and guess what boards do? They set policy. And what we have to do as superintendents, we have to fulfill that policy, make it happen. Well, SB 167, as I’ve read, it is just bad policy, and I would hate to be the one to have to implement it.”
Lobbyist Chuck Clay of Marietta was representing Georgia Bio, the trade association for the bio-sciences industry.
“They are generally opposed to this bill,” Clay said. “They’re concerned that anything that we do that might upset the progress, particularly in the stem cell arena, will hurt our ability to attract the kind of businesses and train the kind of employees we need for the future.”
Clay was also representing the Georgia Education Coalition, a group of six school systems including Cobb, Gwinnett, Fulton, Cherokee, Coweta and the city of Carterville.
“There’s mixed feelings among the members, but we were asked to provide possible amendments to the technical language of the bill to ensure that in the desire to do good you do no harm, and they wouldn’t upset contractual and truly important relationships that interact between the state agencies and private entities like IBM and Google, so you’ve seen a number of these folks express concern that language in here could be very problematic for the kind of information that we need to track student progress,” he said.
Conservatives support Ligon’s bill
Julianne Thompson is the president of the Georgia Republican Assembly and co-founder of the Capitol Coalition of Conservative Leaders, an alliance of 39 organizations across the state.
Thompson called Common Core an inappropriate overreach by the federal government.
“The educational future of our children should not be influenced by Bill and Melinda Gates but rather by their parents,” Thompson said. “There is a reason national curriculum is prohibited by law. Let’s not try to get around that by the enticement of federal funds to conform. Control should be local and the state, not the federal government, should be in power.”
Thompson referenced how Barge spoke of federal accountability.
“But I would like to remind everyone using the words of Ronald Reagan: The federal government did not create the states. The states created the federal government and created it to have very limited powers,” she said.
Kathy Hildebrand is a high school math teacher and a member of the Capitol Coalition of Conservative Leaders.
Hildebrand related how she’d heard Gov. Nathan Deal say that having national standards in place makes it more convenient for military families who move from state to state.
“I just thought to myself let’s back up a minute,” Hildebrand said. “Let’s not just talk about the differences from state to state in education, let’s talk about all of the state laws from state to state that are different because we have different general assemblies. You know, it would be much more convenient if we did away with general assemblies, if we just had the federal government. Dictatorships are convenient. You know, the trains run on time. But anyway, I do believe that we have a local school board for a reason.”
Mike McPherson, an education consultant with Americans for Prosperity Georgia, said educators have a penchant for adopting fads and then discarding them from open classrooms to phonics reading to integrated math to new math.
“It wasn’t too terribly many years ago that we jumped on No Child Left Behind, didn’t we, because we got a little bit of money for that, and we thought that was going to be the panacea, the great thing for public education, No Child Left Behind, we jumped off of that like rats off a ship, and you noticed that when we saw that we got a waiver so that we could get some federal grant money and also sign in at the same time to Common Core,” McPherson said, calling for local control and the support of Ligon’s bill.
Tanya Ditty, state director for Concerned Women for America, said she noticed a theme among supporters of Common Core, which was that if Common Core was scrapped, Georgia would be without good standards.
“I’ve heard Sen. Ligon say this several times: Georgia doesn’t want a seat at the table of sharing standards, we want to own the table,” Ditty said. “We have the talent in the state to write our own standards that can be better than what we already have, we just want control of that.”
Jane Robbins with American Principles in Action also spoke in favor of Ligon’s bill.
“The irony of all this is that Common Core exacerbates everything that has damaged public education over the last 50 years,” Robbins said. “Centralization, loss of control, discredited, progressive education theories. Why do we think that doubling down on failure will lead to success? Having lost the debate on the merits, the Common Core proponents have now resorted to scare tactics, ‘Well, there will be chaos and we’ll lose $1 billion dollars.’ None of that is true. Please do not allow yourselves to be bullied with misinformation. It is not painless to unravel a debacle, it never is and there’s no bill that can do that painlessly, but SB 167 is a very good start. Our children, their parents, and our Constitution deserves so much better than what we’ve got with this Common Core mess.”
Mike Griffin is the lobbyist for the Georgia Baptist Convention, a group that represents over 3,600 churches and 1.4 million members.
“You know when it comes to the Bible and the heart and the soul of our country, no battleground is more strategic and sacred than the one that deals with the education of our country’s children,” Griffin said. “That’s why the Georgia Baptist Convention believes that standards and controls of educating our children are best left in the hands of those closest to the children. Therefore we believe that any effort to nationalize standards and to centralize the education control through the federal government’s influence would rob the parents of their rightful control. The authority of our children should not be surrendered to Washington D.C. bureaucrats or to corporations seeking profits through our education system. We believe that by withdrawing Georgia from Common Core would be in the best interest of all Georgians and it would restore authority to our citizens, to our parents, and to our state elected representatives. Because of these facts and others we support passage of SB 167.”
Angelucci says yes to Ligon’s bill
Cobb Board of Education Chairwoman Kathleen Angelucci attended the first part of the meeting, but had to leave early for another commitment. Angelucci said she supports Ligon’s bill.
“It provides the ultimate freedom; it returns control of the writing and revision of content standards to the state of Georgia,” Angelucci said.
Angelucci said the executive branch and/or the Georgia Board of Education should not be allowed to adopt content standards that have not been vetted by the citizens of Georgia without an open, transparent and accountable process. That process was missing when Common Core was “foisted” upon Georgia school systems, she said.
Ligon’s bill allows for public debate of the standards requiring public hearings in each congressional district and development of its own tests which ensures that Georgia will maintain control, she said.
“Big companies such as Google are now lobbying to strip the entire data-privacy portion of the bill, because they know strict data security interferes with current data-mining practices,” Angelucci said.
Ligon’s bill protects children and parents by establishing strong prohibitions on data collection and data tracking — personal or family data that can be tracked, such as religious or political beliefs, gun ownership, student or family income, and biometric data.
“Attempting to remove parental permission by inserting amendments is wrong. Selling student data or use of data for commercial purposes is wrong,” she said.
The bill would establish penalties for security breaches in the data system which Angelucci said is needed.
“SB 167 will restore educational authority to Georgia citizens and ensure students’ right to privacy,” she said.